Learn how to safely fly a quadcopter

I originally posted this in an online drone/camera forum. This information may be helpful to a wider audience.

Judging from the large number of videos people post on Youtube of crashing (and often damaging or destroying) their quadcopter, I opted for a cheap toy quadcopter to practice with first, before eventually getting something better. I think starting inexpensively is a good idea!

I started with a $30 toy and then later bought a Bugs 3 toy class (all manual, no automated features). Good thing as I made errors, crashed a bit, broke a prop, burned out an ESC and a motor, and eventually broke one of the arms. Fortunately, the Bugs 3 is easily repairable if you are a little bit handy with DIY and electronics. I learned a lot!

I recently bought a used higher end drone for $300 (which is selling for $700 new). I’m confident in my use of this drone due to my building up skills on the “disposable” toys 

After at lot of practice, my goal is no crashes.

  • I use standard safety practices all the time.
  • I use a checklist before flight.
  • I log my flights and make notes afterward.
  • I don’t fly if the winds are too high or the weather is bad.
  • I stay clear of obstacles. If others are flying near me, I talk to them so we coordinate what we are doing.
  • If I forget my check list (has happened), I do not fly. To avoid crashes you need to take safety seriously and adhere to it at all times – no excuses.

This sounds a bit nuts to many, but I used to fly real aircraft and decided to apply the same aviation safety mindset to my model aircraft. And since then, I’ve had zero crashes.

Some tips – when you start flying, fly in an open area well clear of obstacles. Start by  taking off to may be 10 feet (3 meters) and learn how the basic controls operate. Then do a practice landing – remember, slow it down as you approach the ground. Take off again and repeat. Fly around – gently and slowly – in a small area. Gradually build confidence. Model aircraft hobbyists tell me it takes a dozen or more flights to start feeling comfortable with the aircraft.

Don’t go out on day number one and plan to fly your quadcopter like the pros and super experienced hobbyists! Take your time, build your skills and confidence slowly!

Most of the new drones have highly automated features. That’s ok to start, but be sure to learn how to fly competently under full manual control. Too many Youtube videos show people relying on their automated “Return to home” or automated landing feature – and then crashing because the path goes right through a tree and they didn’t know how to manually fly the quadcopter! Seriously! Or not realizing that “return to home” means “close to home” – and watching their quad land itself in the pond 10 feet from where they took off!

Know how to take control and fly manually! Don’t let this happen to you!

Lastly, before you buy, where will you fly? My nearest legal flying spot is ten miles out to a model aircraft airfield to fly because we have a bunch of airports around us (no flying within 5 miles unless you notify the airport and tower).

Hope this is helpful!

Update – If you are within 5 miles of an airport (or near certain other types of facilities) you may be prohibited from flight. Use an app such as KittyHawk (Android) to view flight restrictions for your location, and if possibly, you can use KittyHawk to file a LAANC airspace authorization request with the FAA. You’ll generally get a reply in seconds to less than a minute. I live about 3 miles from a small airport that also has air carrier flights and I have to use LAANC each time I fly at my house. I have never had a problem obtaining authorization.